(Houston -- Wendy Siegle, KUHF) Cyclists in the Houston area won a small victory Friday. At its monthly meeting the Transportation Policy Council, decided to postpone a vote on a proposal to stall several bike and pedestrian projects.
[Listen to the KUHF audio version of this story]
The decision comes after more than thirty people showed up at the meeting to voice their concern. Barbara Jusiak was one of them. “I ride my bicycle to and from the Texas Medical Center every day. And I believe that the ability to cycle safely and to get around on foot is very important to quality of life in a city.”
The Transportation Policy Council allocates money for transportation projects throughout the greater Houston region. The proposal in question has to do with how the TPC will divvy up $345 million dollars that’s coming from two parts of a federally funded program.
Alan Clark is the director of transportation and planning at the Houston-Galveston Area Council. He calls this particular funding the flexible part of the program. “Because although they are highway dollars, they can be used in some cases to support funding for transit, pedestrian, bicycle-type facilities,” he says.
Clark says what’s also unique is that the TPC has control over how the money is used, as opposed to that decision being made in Austin or Washington. If the proposal is approved, $12.8 million dollars that’s planned for transit, bikeway, and walkability projects would possibly be stalled one or more years. That would mean 78 percent of the pot would go to roads and freight rail while just over 11 percent would be spent on building bikeways, sidewalks, and other initiatives that would take people out of their cars. Matthew Reisdorf is a father of two.
“My children in the audience are entering an era of hundred dollar oil and thousand dollar electric bills. They will experience this world, as many of us do today, on foot and on bike – not in a car.”
Several speakers argued that the TPC would be holding up projects that would help combat a wide range of problems, such as childhood obesity, air pollution, oil addiction, and traffic congestion.
But it wasn’t just cyclists who spoke out at today’s meeting, city council member Melissa Noriega encouraged the TPC to delay a vote on the proposal for thirty days, to allow more time for discussion. She points out that money is tight and that it’s hard to figure out how many dollars should be spent on roads and how many should be sent elsewhere.
“I think the discussion is where that balance is and where that percentage ought to lie and how we move up and down that dial. I think that the world is changing under our feet, so I want that conversation to go on and I think we need a little bit of time to do it.”
In the end, everyone came to an agreement: A proposal like this should not be voted on in haste. Instead TPC members decided to put off the decision for month. Aaron Chang is with BikeHouston.
“I think it was really good. All we were asking for was kind of like an open dialogue to discuss what are the wants and the needs of the citizenry, instead of just having decisions handed down almost by fiat, and there’s nothing we can really do about it. They feel empowered now that their voice is being listened to.”
TPC member Arthur Storey characterized the meeting as one akin to a town hall gathering.
“The best of democracy in action. The people came with a point of view to express and the appointed officials and elected officials listened. And now we’re going to take thirty days to think about what they said and what we need to do.”
The TPC will make their decision at its next meeting on March 25th.
For more Houston transportation News, head to KUHF.